Reviewby Theron Martin,
A Certain Magical Index II
BD+DVD - Complete Collection
With a massive population of young science-induced espers and technological advances decades beyond the rest of the world, Academy City is the world's most prominent testament to the power of science. That also makes it a target for magically-oriented groups who find its very existence to be an affront to God – chief among them is the Roman Orthodox Church, hatching various plans to either eliminate or seize control of the city. But Academy City also has its potent defenders. One of its unsung heroes is Touma Kamijo, a supposed Level 0 who nonetheless possesses Imagine Breaker, the unique ability to neutralize any magic or psychic power with a touch from his right hand. Between that and housing Index, a mini-nun whose mind contains 103,000 books of forbidden magical knowledge, he gets involved in all manner of magical and psychic affairs that often end up putting him in the hospital. He also has to contend with a certain Electromaster out to rope him into a penalty game and assorted girls who are just as likely to beat the crap out of him as be interested in him. Meanwhile, a certain scientific Railgun, her “sisters,” and her roommate Kuroko must contend with continuing fallout from the Level 6 Project, while Accelerator deals with his limited powers and living with Last Order.
The Certain Magical Index franchise has four anime series and one movie to date, of which this was the third installment, airing in Fall of 2010. Although I consider it to be the weakest series in the franchise, it does accomplish its three essential goals: it advances the storylines on both scientific and magical fronts, it has plenty of dramatic action, and it gives viewers plenty of opportunities to have fun with characters both old and new. In those senses at least, the series can be considered a success.
Unfortunately, it also experiences some major pitfalls along the way. The most pervasive and detrimental of these is its horribly overwritten dialogue. Regardless of whether the original novel author or series writer is principally to blame for this, characters have an irritating tendency to expound at great length about their beliefs and goals, to a degree that goes well beyond the simple statements of determination commonly seen in shonen anime. The worst and most regular offender is Touma, but he's hardly the only one, as good guys and bad guys alike are guilty of prattling. Many other anime series can accomplish bold declarations without having characters feel like they are giving sermons, so why is it such a big problem here? Granted, this is not the first entry in this franchise to have this problem, since the first Index series also had these issues, but it seems much more pronounced here. Besides, the Railgun series largely didn't have this problem.
Other issues are more minor and personal grievances. The franchise has always been prone to ageism, in the sense that it rarely seems like people older than 17 are doing anything important unless they're a villain or taking care of the wounded. (This is even more pronounced in the novels.) The policing force Judgment seems entirely composed of students as young as 13 – yes, they have powers, but that hardly equates to the maturity needed for this degree of responsibility. Granted, the franchise is targeted at teenagers and this is hardly uncommon for anime, but it's always felt more pronounced in this franchise than others. The writing also has little regard for proprieties of religion, which show up most prominently as armies of young warrior nuns armed with medieval weapons who take great liberties with their nun's habits; sometimes the design of the robes totally defeats the purpose of them being a modest garment. Granted, this is a world with a markedly different development of the church, where magic is almost inextricably linked with religion rather than contrary to it, but if the concept of crucifixes magically growing giant to be used as weapons is too edgy for your tastes, then you might want to skip on this one. (I won't even get started on what I think about Vento of the Front.)
When the series concentrates on what it does best though, it can be a lot of fun. The diverse collection of story arcs – most of them not more than 4-5 episodes long – provides for a lot of variety, and the focus shifts around enough that it isn't just the Touma Show; various parts of the series also feature Accelerator, Kuroko, Mikoto, Kaori Kanzaki, Tsuchimikado, and even (briefly) a few newcomers as viewpoint characters, though Touma still gets the lion's share. This allows just about all of the large established cast to get some attention, as well as allowing significant new ongoing additions like Mikoto's mother or the leader of the Amakusa Church. As crowded as this may seem, the writing does an excellent job of juggling its voluminous cast while still keeping events pumping along. It also provides plenty of opportunities for the crazy interactions that have become the heart of the series, such as Mikoto's ongoing efforts (in a thinly-veiled romantic sense) to get Touma to engage in a penalty game over a sports festival competition, Kuroko's obsessiveness with Mikoto, the way Accelerator deals with the rambunctious Last Order, or even some revelations about how Alistair (the person behind Academy City) and the frog-faced doctor are connected. Much of the series' humor comes from these interactions, such as the skewed understanding of some of the Sisters of Mikoto about how romantic relationships work. (“If you get a ring on your finger, you win.”) There's also some significant character development built into all this, especially for Accelerator, who's caught between the thrill he gets out of committing bloody mayhem and the unwelcome reasons why he has to resort to violence sometimes.
Diverse story arcs also move the plot along substantially, while providing ample opportunities for action scenes. Despite the seeming motley assemblage of arcs, each one actually fits together in some sense to provide an overall picture of a brewing war between the Roman Orthodox Church and Academy City – between the forces of magic/religion and science. Skill-Out are also potentially ramping up the level of trouble they can cause, and several lingering elements from the Sisters arc are revisited from the first series. While some arcs could have stood an extra episode or two of development (especially the arc about the fallout of the Sisters story), they do at least keep the story humming along. On the action front, each established character, as well as many new ones, gets ample opportunity to show off their powers, whether magical, psychic, or whatever you classify Imagine Breaker as being. Battles are as flashy and intense as ever, and the intricacies of the magic systems being used are equally involving.
The animation is generally at its best in the action scenes, though it does take shortcuts elsewhere, and it's definitely not free from consistency issues. The same can be said about the overall artistic effort, which most oddly results in Touma's body size fluctuating; he seems distinctly beefier in some scenes than others, and I don't think it's just a perspective issue or artistic license. New character designs are generally good and diverse, with levels of flamboyance and sex appeal well in line with the standards set by the first series. The fanservice quotient has definitely been upped, but not smoothly; while Index may be one of the defining light novel adaptations in a lot of senses (both good and bad), fanservice has never been one of its strong suits. The content in this season also tends to be a bit more graphic. The synth-heavy style of the musical score remains in line with the rest of the franchise: effective and energetic, though not spectacular. As techno-themed openers go, the first OP “No buts!” is one of the best up there, while the second opener “See VisionS” starts slower but kicks up a couple of notches before it ends. Both closers are less remarkable.
Funimation originally released this series in late 2014 as two separate Blu-Ray/DVD sets, and this release looks to be just a combination of those into a single case. (In other words, if you bought the individual sets, then there's nothing to be gained by picking up this one.) Extras include clean versions of the theme songs and English commentaries for episodes 2, 7, 14, and 22. The English dub returns the entire cast from the first series' very solid dub, and it doesn't miss a beat on the casting choices for new characters.
The other big problem with this series is that it ends just as things are starting to seriously ramp up toward a war between Academy City and the Roman Othodox Church. This has left frustrated fans clamoring for a third Index series ever since, especially since the light novels published to date go well beyond this point, and the 2013 movie (which takes place about halfway through this series) doesn't change that. While a third season has been teased as plausible, nothing has actually been announced to date. For now, you'll just have to read the novels if you want more.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Entertaining cast with plenty of fun action and chemistry, neat magical and psychic concepts
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